Green Bay — The last time Eli Manning quarterbacked a game at Lambeau Field was the NFC divisional playoffs in January 2012.
An 8 1/2-point underdog, the New York Giants stunned the Green Bay Packers, 37-20, behind Manning, who threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns and compiled a passer rating of 114.5.
On Sunday night, Manning will make his return with the Giants residing in a similar underdog role (7½ points).
“Magic touch there,” an executive in personnel said, referring to Manning’s pair of postseason victories in Green Bay during a 13-year career. “Eli is still getting it done. He’s the engineer that makes this offense work.
“But I just don’t think the Giants can protect against some teams that can rush. Definitely Minnesota could (rush), and I think Green Bay is going to be able to.”
The Giants were a 4-point underdog Monday night when they played at Minnesota and lost, 24-10. Now they have to travel again, this time on a short week, against a Green Bay team coming off a bye.
“That’s messed up,” said the personnel man. “Usually that doesn’t happen. Usually they help you out one way or the other.”
Three scouts all picked the Packers: 31-17, 24-21 and 24-17.
Manning, 35, is 4-3 against the Packers, including 2-1 at Lambeau Field. His passer rating in the seven games is 88.7.
“I have to think, with the downward spiral that the Giants are on, their run at beating Green Bay on that field will come to an end,” an AFC personnel man said. “The Giants have no identity and no real playmaker that can or will put this team on his back to get them jump-started.”
Ben McAdoo, an assistant in Green Bay from 2006-’13, was promoted from coordinator to coach in January but still calls the plays. The design is similar to the Packers’, with the lead formation one RB-three WRs and the quarterback usually in shotgun. The run game, which features a counter play behind a pulling guard, is different. The Giants rank sixth in yards (382.3), 27th in points (18.3) and tied for 27th in giveaways (nine).
WR Odell Beckham Jr. (5-11, 198), the 12th pick in 2014, is an elite player but must be careful not to lose focus because of double-teaming and aggressive cornerbacks. He has great speed (4.40), ability to separate and hands that make spectacular catches almost routine. He’s also smart (Wonderlic score of 23), tough in traffic, great after the catch and ultra-competitive. Victor Cruz (6-0, 204), an elite slot receiver from 2011-’13, isn’t close to the player he was before knee and calf operations limited him to six games in 2014-’15. He’s somewhat miscast playing outside but made the move to accommodate rookie slot Sterling Shepard (5-10, 194), a second-round pick. He’s small but plays strong, catches everything, works inside and uses 4.44 speed to separate on double moves. TE Larry Donnell (6-6, 265), who has 103 receptions since ’13, suffered a concussion Monday night and is iffy. Will Tye (6-2, 262), a second-year free agent from Stony Brook, isn’t a blocker but runs 4.57 and is a receiving threat.
It’s better inside than outside. LG Justin Pugh (6-4 ½, 301), the 19th pick in ’13, is a four-year starter. An ex-RT, he is a tough competitor and run blocker. His short arms (32 inches), however, handicap him in protection. C Weston Richburg (6-3 ½, 298), a second-round pick in ’14, isn’t very big but runs the show, is aggressive and effective. RG John Jerry (6-5, 340), a 73-game starter for the Dolphins and Giants, probably is playing better than he ever has at 30. He’s massive, stays off the ground, anchors against power and does most of the pulling. Mental errors have been his bugaboo.
Mauling LT Ereck Flowers (6-6 ½, 329), the ninth pick in ’15, is just 22 and would be better suited for RT. Scouts admire his go-for-the-throat mentality and tremendous strength (37 reps on the bench press). However, he catches too much, can be late reacting and needs to playe more under control. Former Packer RT Marshall Newhouse (6-4, 328) started last year and Games 1-2 this year before suffering a calf injury. According to one scout, Newhouse is a complete liability. His replacement, Bobby Hart (6-4 ½, 334), is a seventh-round pick in ’15. He’s huge and smart (Wonderlic of 27), but ran just 5.61 and doesn’t recover well.
Eli Manning (6-4 ½, 232), the first pick in ’04, is a two-time Super Bowl MVP with amazing durability. Counting playoffs, this will be his 199th consecutive start since taking over for Kurt Warner as a rookie. After growing pains early in ’14, Manning has accepted and thrived in McAdoo’s West Coast system. He identifies the weakness of the defense quickly, makes rapid decisions and gets rid of the ball fast. His arm strength hasn’t waned, and he does an excellent job finding the open man. He will force the ball into tight windows and suffer interceptions, but at the same time his nerve leads to big plays. His Wonderlic scores were 25 and 39. Ryan Nassib (6-2, 223), a fourth-round pick in ’13, has 10 pass attempts in 3 ½ seasons. He’s tough and smart (Wonderlic of 41).
Rashad Jennings (6-1, 231), a 3,281-yard rusher for three teams since ’09, is iffy with a thumb injury. He’s a big back that has been running small. Former Patriot Shane Vereen suffered a likely season-ending triceps injury in Game 3. Thus, free agent Orleans Darkwa (5-11, 215) and rookie Paul Perkins (5-10 ½, 208), a fifth-round pick, figure to share early-down duties. Darkwa is a rugged straight-line runner who can’t create. Perkins isn’t as strong but avoids better. Scatback Bobby Rainey (5-7 ½, 212), with his fourth team in four years, is solid because he can run (4.53), catch and elude.
Steve Spagnuolo, the team’s coordinator from 2007-’08, returned last year after stints in St. Louis, New Orleans and Baltimore. He runs a 4-3 scheme that has as much, if not more, volume than any other, especially on third down. Zone pressures and a wide number of fronts characterize a Spagnuolo-coached platoon. The Giants rank 11th in yards (346.3), 15th in points (21.3) and tied for 31st in takeaways (one, and it was by the special teams).
The Giants have improved dramatically against the run (84.0, 3.2) largely due to NT Damon Harrison (6-2 ½, 350), a Jets starter from 2013-’15. He’s thick, strong, physical and hard to dislodge. Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 325), a second-round pick in ’13, is much heavier than the typical 3-technique. A three-year starter, he clogs up running lanes but his pocket-pushing bull rushes leave much to be desired. LE Jason Pierre-Paul (6-4 ½, 278) didn’t do much against the Vikings but was solid in Games 1-3. He’s able to convert speed to power on rushes, uses his long arms (34 ¾) to constrict throwing lanes, has burst to finish and plays the run honestly. He has shed the club on his right hand that was mangled in a 2015 fireworks mishap. RE Olivier Vernon (6-2, 275) received $52.5 million guaranteed in March to leave Miami. He’s athletic, long-armed (33), sets the edge and can run (4.70). He’s also small, gets engulfed and should use more speed than counter rushes. Owa Odighizuwa (6-3 ½, 270), a third-round pick in ’15, and rookie free agent Romeo Okwara (6-4 ½, 265) receive about 10 snaps per game to see if they can fill the desperate need for inside rush. Their effort is high, their production isn’t.
There isn’t a keeper in the group. The base starters are SLB Devon Kennard (6-3, 251), MLB Kelvin Sheppard (6-2, 249) and WLB Jonathan Casillas (6-1, 233). The best, mostly by default, is Casillas, an eight-year veteran from Wisconsin with his fourth team. Speed, toughness and blitzing ability have enabled Casillas to extend his career. He lacks instincts in coverage. Kennard is an ordinary athlete whose strength is handling the run at him. Sheppard, with 48 starts for four teams, is an old-fashioned thumper with marginal movement. Besides Casillas, the most frequently-used LB is Keenan Robinson (6-3, 240), a 21-game starter for Washington from 2014-’15. He’s athletic and long but doesn’t run well (4.77) and is more of a finesse player.
If not for a rash of injuries, it would be a competitive group. CB Janoris Jenkins (5-10, 198), the Rams’ second-round pick in ’12, was given $28.8 million guaranteed to leave in March. Jenkins has elite man-cover skills with quickness, ability to mirror and speed (4.43). However, he peeks in the backfield too much, will blow assignments and is an inconsistent tackler. The next-best CBs, speedy Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (6-1 ½, 193) and rookie Eli Apple (6-0 ½, 199), probably won’t play due to injury. Rodgers-Cromartie, 30, is starting to decline but Apple, the 10th pick, was emerging. Thus, Trevin Wade (5-10 ½, 190) will have to make a second start and former Bengal standout Leon Hall (5-11, 195) will have to play the slot. Wade, with his fourth team, can’t play the ball and really can’t cover. Hall, on the street for five months, is 31 and can’t match up anymore. SS Landon Collins (6-0, 216), a second-round pick in ’15, is a box player with LB-type ruggedness. He can run (4.47 speed) but struggles in man coverage, especially deep. FS Darian Thompson, a top-flight rookie, is out (foot). He’ll probably be replaced by Nat Berhe (5-10 ½, 194), a fifth-round pick in ’14 who missed Monday night (concussion). He’s slow, but also feisty and alert. If Berhe sits, there’s a major dropoff to rookie free agent Andrew Adams (5-11, 202).
K Josh Brown, 37, has been hot since 2012. He’s 67.3% from 50-plus in a 14-year career. P Brad Wing, a third-year man, is 26th in net average (37.6). WR Dwayne Harris, a former Cowboy, has been one of the NFL’s elite dual returners for six years. He does fumble. Harris leads veteran coach Tom Quinn’s respectable cover units.
When Odell Beckham entered the draft in 2014 as a third-year junior he was compared by scouts to Marvin Harrison and Greg Jennings. Surely, Jennings was never as good as Beckham, whose record 2,755 yards in his first two seasons surpassed Randy Moss’ 2,726 in 1998-’99. Entering his debut against Green Bay, Beckham is coming off a career-low 23 yards Monday night against Minnesota. The Vikings and the Redskins, who also defeated the Giants in Game 3, contained Beckham by playing man coverage with safety help. His 303 yards ranks merely 16th in the NFL.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham is coming off a 23-yard night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Beckham will rebound and produce some big plays, just not enough,” an NFC personnel director said. “The Giants rely too much on Eli and the wide receivers and don’t run the ball enough. If they have to play from behind at all it leaves Eli vulnerable.”
The Giants’ refitted defense probably will be without three of its top five defensive backs for the second straight game.
“That’s not pretty,” the scout said. “Their problem is, they have the edge guys but they’re just not getting any rush up front so quarterbacks are just stepping up. They really don’t have anybody that can win inside.”
For the second straight game it appears as if the Giants will be without three of their top five defensive backs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) and rookie Eli Apple (hamstring), the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks, aren’t expected to play. FS Darian Thompson, who was having an outstanding rookie season, probably will miss a third game in a row with a sprained foot. In Game 3, Washington’s Kirk Cousins posted a passer rating of 106.4 in the Redskins’ 29-27 victory. On Monday night, Minnesota’s Sam Bradford had a rating of 101.9 in the Vikings’ 24-10 triumph.
The resurgence of the Giants’ defense is due in part to Damon Harrison, the mammoth nose tackle from tiny William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
In March, GM Jerry Reese gave Harrison a five-year, $46.25 million contract to depart the Jets as an unrestricted free agent. The deal contained $24 million guaranteed.
Harrison, in 60% playing time, has been a solid addition with 23 tackles, including two for loss.
In March 2014, Reese made the decision not to offer NT Linval Joseph big money. Four years earlier, he drafted Joseph in the middle of the second round.
Joseph started all but one game from 2011-’13 for the Giants. They came to view him as an effective point-of-attack player who flashed movement ability but didn’t make a lot of plays. Reese wanted him back, but at the team’s price.
Without Joseph, the Giants tried to make do the past two years with Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn and Jay Bromley at defensive tackle alongside Johnathan Hankins. The departure of Joseph was one of many reasons why the defense collapsed from an eighth-place finish in 2013 to 29th in 2104 and 32nd last year.
Since the arrival of Harrison, Hankins has been free to play the edges of blockers as the 3-technique, which is more his natural position.
The Minnesota Vikings pounced on Joseph shortly after the start of free agency in March 2014, giving him a five-year, $31.25 million deal that contained $12.5 million in guarantees.
After a respectable first season in Minnesota, Joseph raised his level of play in 2015 and was a unanimous choice at nose tackle on the All-NFC North Division team.
Joseph has taken his game to still another level in the first four games this year. In 59.4% playing time, he has 21 tackles, three sacks, one quarterback hit, four tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
He has been a dominant player in the Vikings’ 4-0 start.
Mistakes are made all the time in free agency. Clearly, the Giants made a big one two years ago by not recognizing what they had in Joseph and offering him a contract commensurate with his performance and untapped potential.
Reese countered effectively this spring with the signing of Harrison, but it was two years too late and came at the cost of almost twice as much in guaranteed money.